My baby grew at the center of me, his cells splitting into flesh, hardening into bone. As he grew, so did his imaginary twin, a baby made not of flesh, but of sadness.
Before I even began to show, I was filled with wild pulses of anxiety. At night, I would roam the house in my bathrobe, checking the doors and windows for the twelfth time, the thirteenth, the fourteenth. During the day, unable to concentrate on my work, I would stay in bed, willing my eyes open to the sky outside the window. When I closed them, the nightmares would arrive. My imagination in my normal life runs to the exuberantly surreal, but these nightmares were far too real, the world as I knew it, but suddenly curdled. There were pandemics in these nightmares, people lying down one by one in the streets to die. There were droughts, the green places I love crisped brown, the lakes drying up, the fish beginning to stink. There were hurricanes, my Florida house smashed as if by an enormous fist. There was hunger.
As if to appease the darker twin, I ate; as if to sweeten his bitterness, I ate sweets: puddings and muffins and entire crisper drawers of fruit.
An image of me in those days: standing before the open refrigerator in my underwear on a hot March afternoon, belly only a little extended, sucking down slippery slices of mango, handfuls of grapes, pineapple that made my mouth burst out in constellations of blisters. At my four-month checkup, I weighed twenty pounds more than usual.
Whoa, said the midwife softly, then wrote the number in the folder.
My doctor was a small Greek man who spoke in a Muppet voice. My friend had recommended him, and I liked his bracing crispness, his efficiency when he did the exams. It meant that he saw a million women a day who were pregnant, that my pregnancy was no big deal, a matter of rote. When I was alone at home, this thing happening to my body felt far too horrifyingly specific, and there was comfort in the sea of round bodies in his waiting room, the calm women with the fat ankles and the toddlers gently misbehaving in the corner. I always left the doctor’s office feeling reassured, practically jaunty.
And then the long, lonely walk to the car in the Florida humidity, and the darker twin would awaken and give me a kick, and before I even reached the car I would remember to be afraid.